One leadership job checked off
In a year - and in the coming year - of leadership changes in Hamilton County, at least one new leader is chosen. Justin Robertson, a 13-year Hamilton County schools district veteran teacher, principle and administrator took the nod Thursday to become our new school superintendent. He won a vote of 7-2 from the nine members of the Hamilton County Board of Education.
His job will not be easy, and we'll expand on that Sunday. But his path to becoming the new head of schools wasn't easy either. He recently has been serving as interim deputy superintendent after former schools leader Bryan Johnson began the process of pulling our school system out of the depths of despair then left us on Aug. 17 to go to work for US Xpress, a locally based national trucking and logistics company.
Robertson and interim superintendent Nakia Towns, who declined to seek the top job, have seen the system through a second school season of COVID-19.
Robertson also had to compete against two charismatic out-of-towners to win the board's vote: Jermaine Dawson, chief academic and accountability officer of Birmingham City Schools in Alabama, whom board members called "a great spirit" and "magic" in school buildings with students and teachers, and Christopher Bernier, chief of staff of the Clark County school district in Las Vegas, described as a "ready-to-roll-up-his-sleeves kind of guy."
But in the end, the hometown guy won out. That may become his biggest challenge yet. Time will tell, and either way, he's now our guy and we're with him.
But lots more to go
The rest of our local political landscape remains far from being fully shaped. We're still awaiting the shakeout for a new Chattanooga police chief. The search is on, and Mayor Tim Kelly and city council members are developing priorities for that hire with citizen input.
And then there are, at least, a whopping 83 elected offices on the Hamilton County ballot for 2022.
In some of these, the candidate fields are just beginning to fill out.
We have at least three wanna-bes for the Hamilton County mayor's seat being vacated by retiring (maybe) Jim Coppinger.
Thus far all three are Republicans, already guaranteeing a lively primary among businessman Matt Hullander, son of Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander; businessman Weston Wamp, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, and District 7 County Commissioner (and currently commission chairwoman) Sabrena Smedley.
But local Democratic Party leaders say we shouldn't be lulled into thinking this seat is all about Republicans, and we hope they are correct.
The Tennessee General Assembly added some gasoline to the firewood in late October by voting to allow school board races to be partisan affairs. Then the local Republican Party's Executive Committee tossed on a lit match, voting within days to approve partisan races for Hamilton County school board seats. Democratic Party Interim Co-chairman Chris Anderson quickly promised a full, aggressive battle, up and down the ticket. Yay!
Then there is the county commission, now with 11 seats, up from nine - and the aforementioned school board, also now with 11 seats, up from nine.
Smedley's mayoral bid leaves her District 7 seat open, and both District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter and District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd have said they would not be seeking re-election. With the two new seats, Districts 10 and 11, we'll have at least five lively commission races. We also know already that District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks and District 2 Commissioner Chip Baker are seeking re-election, and if chatter from the recent redistricting meetings is any indication, both may face opposition.
That's not all
We mustn't forget that Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston already has opposition from Coty Wamp, general counsel with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, a former 10th Judicial District assistant DA and the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.
Nor can we forget that Sheriff Jim Hammond is not seeking re-election, leaving that seat wide open, though Hammond in 2019 endorsed Chief Deputy Austin Garrett.
Also in Hamilton County, the seats for four circuit judges, three criminal judges, two chancery judges, five sessions judges and one juvenile judge are up for election - as are the seats for Circuit Court Clerk, Criminal Court Clerk, Juvenile Court Clerk, County Clerk, Register of Deeds, County Trustee and Public Defender.
We also should mention that five seats in our state house delegation are up for re-election: those of Reps. Robin Smith, Patsy Hazlewood, Yusuf Hakeem, Greg Vital and Esther Helton. State Sen. Bo Watson is also up for re-election.
Last but not least, we'll have yet another 3rd District congressional election. We can count on Chuck Fleischmann trying to retain his seat, and we know Chattanooga's Meg Gorman is campaigning against him again this year, as she did in 2020 - winning 30% against him in a field that included three independents.
And, of course, Bill Lee is running hard already for re-election as our governor. (Bring on the opposition, please!)
It looks as though 2022 will be anything but a quiet political year around these parts.